Greg Norman is near tears. the pain is almost too much to bear. this is because under his folded arms, as he waits for his turn to hit, he is pressing three fingers of his right hand under his rib cage as hard as he can.
He digs so deep that his lip quivers and his diaphragm feels as if it were being punctured. Norman does not want to do this. He needs to do it. This is what he gets for missing that last birdie putt, for letting his compass go a couple of degrees off Perfect.
Let the other two guys in his threesome just stand there and wait, accomplishing nothing. Norman does not have time to wait. He is pressing, working, improving. When he finally stops digging with his fingers, it feels so good that he lets out a long breath, and he is able to focus and hit the perfect shot.
"I've always been a pusher of my own life," he will say later. "I expect 101 percent from myself, and I expect 101 percent of others." Is it his fault if the world doesn't get the memo?
Greg Norman is picking something off your sweater. A hair or a nodule of wool. If he knows you, he does this sort of thing all the time. "You will get along fine with Greg," says his manager, Frank Williams, "as soon as you realize he's an absolute, stark-raving perfectionist."
Greg Norman is voted the 1995 PGA Player of the Year. In one of his greatest seasons he heads the money list despite playing only 16 Tour events, is the top-ranked player in the world by three zip codes, wins three PGA tournaments, wins the Australian Open, nearly wins the Masters, nearly wins the U.S. Open and has the Tour's lowest scoring average. To celebrate, he fires his swing coach. "I wasn't happy with the way I was hitting the ball," he explains.
Greg Norman is gone. He was here a second ago, relaxing with Nick Price off an obscenely beautiful island near Belize on Norman's $4.9 million, 87-foot custom-designed fishing yacht, Aussie Rules. There is nothing he needs to do, and if there were, there's a full crew just waiting for him to ask. You almost wanted to get a camera and snap the shot for Ripley's: Greg Norman doing nothing.
"Here is a vacation with Greg," says Flash, the Aussie Rules mate. "Get up early, wolf down breakfast, dive, come up, fish, then a quick lunch, bottom-fish, dive, troll for sailfish, then dinner, sleep and start again the next day." When he hears this later, Norman will beam and say, "That's how I relax. One day in Mexico, trolling, I pulled in 28 of 43 bites." What, you don't keep score on vacation?
Anyway, all Price can figure is that Norman saw something that horrified him, because he jumped up and ran below. Now he's back with some sandpaper, and he's feverishly working on a tiny scratch on the side of the boat. You don't see that every day: a guy who pulls down $300,000 just to show up at international tournaments--a walking ATM who rakes in about $11 million in endorsements per year and who just cashed out a reported $38 million worth of Cobra Golf Inc. stock--on his hands and knees, working on a scratch. Says Price, "Greg Normans do not come along very often."
Greg Norman is a foreigner playing his first full year on the PGA Tour. It's 1984. The course is the Atlanta Country Club. The hole is the 11th, a par-5. Norman has just reached the green in two. A U.S. star, who shall go nameless, plays his wedge shot on in three and then walks up to Norman. "Son, you're not good enough to play over here," the man says. "You just pack your ass up and go home." And the young Australian thinks, Welcome to America.
It's 1996, and Greg Norman is sitting in the front passenger seat of his Chevy Suburban, stuck behind the Little Toyota That Couldn't on a Miami boulevard. He does not have time for this. This is a man with a need for speed, a desire to get everything done a week ago. Enraged that the Camry isn't giving 101%, Norman reaches in front of Flash, who's driving, and honks the horn. Norman makes a halfhearted attempt to grab the wheel. He honks again and curses like a longshoreman. It's odd, because seconds ago he seemed to be in a fine mood. All of a sudden he's Krakatoa. "You silly motherf-----!" he shouts. "Get out of the way!"
It never happens on the golf course. It never happens in the press room, where he has shown up for all 51 of his second-place press conferences. But Greg Norman will lose it on you. In England in the early '80s he chased down a motorist who kept swerving in front of him and punched the man in the jaw. And three years ago Norman offered to fight Paul Azinger after Azinger said, more or less, that Norman's record hadn't lived up to his reputation. "You want a piece of me?" Norman asked. Azinger didn't.
"He's a lot like his father," says Greg's mother, Toini, who loves him anyway. "You don't like to cross him. He always thinks he's right. I told him that the other day. I said, 'You're getting just like your father. Stubborn.'"
"I admit it," says Norman. "I am not the most even-tempered guy in the world." But can't people see how much there is to be done?
Greg Norman is buzzing fish, harassing seagulls, threatening lifespans. He is eight feet above the Atlantic Ocean at the controls of his $4 million Bell 230 twin-engine helicopter, doing 140 knots, which is about 160 mph, which is pretty much certifiable at this low altitude. He is screaming up the South Florida coastline as if he were late for the obit page, and he does not yet have his helicopter license, and he just missed that pelican, and the regular pilot, who does have a license, doesn't have his hands on the stick. He's on the phone. He doesn't seem worried.
"Greg loves being good at things," says Laura, his wife. The four of us in the back of the chopper hope that flying helicopters is one of those things. "Absolutely," says Gary Hogan, the pilot. "For someone who doesn't do this all the time, Greg is the best I've ever seen." Unfortunately, this statement does not register with us because most of the blood has left our brains.
Greg, aren't you the least bit scared?
"Nahhhh," he says. "Come with me sometime when I weave in and out of the trees in the Everglades. That's fun."
Greg Norman is 13 and unable to figure out his homework. He tries to solve a math problem and fails, and when he asks his father, Merv, for help, the stern and stocky man only points Greg back to his room. "Go in there and figure it out," Merv says.
Greg is back again. "Dad, I can't figure it out."
Index finger. "Get back there and try again."
Greg Norman is six and scared. He is afraid of the dark. He has his own room, and like most six-year-olds, he is sure there is something in there waiting for him. But unlike most six-year-olds, Greg screws up his courage and walks quickly from the door to his bed without turning on the light and pulls the covers over his head.
The next night he does it more slowly. Soon he is no longer scared of the dark.
Greg Norman is 88 feet under the sea and out of air. His scuba regulator is giving him nothing. Thirty feet from him is his diving buddy. Should Norman swim furiously to his buddy and air-share, or should he try to get to the surface on his own? Rising no faster than the air bubbles that he exhales, Norman makes it to the top alive but suffering from a mild case of the bends.
Greg Norman does not do buddies or night-lights.
Greg Norman is 41, golf's alltime leading money winner, the winner of an astonishing 73 tournaments worldwide, easily the greatest driver of the golf ball in history, the best- conditioned star in the game, the most marketable name on the PGA Tour, and he is sitting alone at a table in a clubhouse crowded with his fellow PGA pros. "Most guys are jealous," says Brad Faxon, one of Norman's few friends on the Tour. "He's got that great look, the black clothes, the black hat, the blond hair. And players say, 'Yeah, he's got all that money, so it's easy to go at every flag.' But it's going at every flag that made him all the money in the first place! All the helicopters and jets--that pisses guys off, too. They think he's big-timing 'em. But if he didn't buy the helicopters and the jets, they'd call him cheap."
Besides, if you are going to be jealous, who better to pick than the Great White Shark? Only Jack Nicklaus has a better top-10 finish percentage on the PGA Tour (53% to Norman's 49%). "That's totally amazing," says Price. Nobody current is even close. Fred Couples is at 30%, Price 27%, Nick Faldo 21%. Arnold Palmer himself is only 36%.
Since the invention of the Sony World Rankings in 1986, Norman has topped the list for 216 weeks. No one else has been on top for even 100 weeks. His current lead, over Colin Montgomerie, is a healthy four points, and the fact that in March, Norman missed two straight cuts for the first time since he joined the Tour only made more jaws drop at how good he has been. He is still a favorite to win this week's Masters. Even monkeys fall from trees.
If cool were a product you could buy, cool would get Norman to endorse it. He is what men long to be and women long to be with. He is the male Annie Oakley: Anything you can do, he can do better, and with far more bitchin' stuff. He does not just spearfish, he spearfishes with .357 explosive tips. He is not just a good swimmer, he has saved two lives. He does not just hunt sharks, he hand-feeds them live salmon from a submerged cage. (He once petted an 11-foot bull shark sleeping in a cave 68 feet below Mexican waters.) He is not just a good driver, he has hugged the wall at 180 mph in a Roger Penske Indy Car. He does not just have the neatest toys, he has two helicopters, a $28 million jet, five boats, two Jet Skis, two Harleys, six Suburbans, one Mercedes, a go-kart that will blow away a lot of cars, and either six or seven Ferraris. ("Hey, Flash, do I have six or seven Ferraris?" he asks. Flash isn't sure either.) And yet, hang around Norman, and he is hard to hate. He likes steep bets, risque jokes and cold beer and is constantly getting up to get you another.
His body seems to have been made to hang clothes on. With his ice-blue eyes, blond flowing hair, sturdy jaw, swimmer's shoulders and dancer's waist, the Shark is the first golfer ever to look down from a billboard on Times Square. And yet he can be as square as a game of bridge. He is going on his 15th year of marriage and has been known to fly home in the middle of a tournament to see his 13-year-old daughter, Morgan-Leigh, play in a soccer game. He helps with the dishes, works with Morgan-Leigh and her brother, Gregory Jr., 10, on their homework, and has a black belt in barbecue. Norman gives easily of himself. During the 1990 Australian Masters in Melbourne, he took a half-hour chopper ride to be at the bedside of a boy who was sick with AIDS. When the boy died, Norman wore the youngster's name on his hat.
So why is he so alone? Why have his close friendships with Andy Bean, Nicklaus, Curtis Strange and Ian Woosnam cooled? Once Norman and each of these fellow golfers were like blood brothers, but now he is rarely seen with any of them. In fact it is rare for Norman to be seen dining out with any current Tour player.
He agrees with Faxon that one reason may be envy. "But I wouldn't have thought so in America," says Norman, who lives in Hobe Sound, Fla. "America is built on people who started as shoeshine boys and ended up owning the shoe company. I don't understand it."
Some say Norman is alone because in 1994 he championed a proposed World Tour that would have undercut the PGA Tour. Others say they are too intimidated to speak to Norman. And some say that at a table where Norman and his ego are already seated, there's no room for anybody else.
Says Laura, "I feel sorry for Greg. What's happened is really sad. I know Greg would love to have a close male friend, someone to get drunk with and just tell anything. But there's nobody."
Greg Norman is 30 and about to greet his father, whom he hasn't seen in six months. Greg says, "Sometimes I used to think, Wouldn't it be great to give my dad a big hug? God, wouldn't that be great? I haven't seen him in so long."
For most of his adult life, Greg has not been close to his father, who still lives in their hometown of Brisbane. Greg has gone months without calling him. "What's the point?" he would say. "I can't get anything out of him anyway."
Says a longtime friend of the family, "In all his life, I don't think Greg's father ever said, 'Son, I'm proud of you. Son, I love you.'"
"Maybe all this achievement of Greg's has something to do with pleasing his dad," says Laura. "Maybe, indirectly, that's what drove him to get where he is today."
As Merv walks toward him, Greg thinks once again about hugging his father but changes his mind. "I finally realized, No, my dad's not like that," he says. They shake hands firmly.
Greg Norman is 16 and running beside death. He and a high school friend are training for a rugby game when, out of the blue, the kid drops dead right next to Greg. Simply drops as if he had been hit by sniper fire. When the boy's mother shows up, Greg has to tell her that she has lost her son.
Death visited Greg early; maybe that's why he's not scared of it now. "I don't know," he says. "I guess there's this hidden thing in me that wants to get everything done before I die."
What "everything" is, nobody but Norman seems to know, but he must be close to finishing it. Norman has gotten so much done that he has run out of ordinary things to try and has had to dream up a list of extraordinary ones. He has written it down: a) trek the highest mountains of Tibet, b) dive under the polar ice cap of Antarctica, c) fly in the Space Shuttle, d) cruise down the Amazon, e) land a jet on an aircraft carrier. Say, Greg, that (b) sounds a little scary.
"Nahhhh," he says. "We'll be wearing dry suits!"
"Sometimes I think he believes he's invincible," says Laura.
Greg Norman is 17 and about to add to the wall between himself and his father. Greg's one goal in life is to be a fighter pilot for the Royal Australian Air Force. He has been a junior cadet. His father had the same dream, but when he was ready to enter the service, World War II ended. Together the Normans sit in the RAAF's Brisbane recruiting office. It is a momentous day for both of them. But just as Greg is about to sign, something inside stops him. "I can't do this, Dad," he says. Wordlessly, Merv takes him home.
Merv hopes Greg will attend college and follow him into engineering. Greg doesn't do that, either. Instead he takes a year off to surf. When he comes back, he decides he wants to be a pro golfer, despite the fact that his own instructor says he shouldn't do it. Merv is stone against the idea. Greg turns pro anyway.
"It was a bit tense around here at times," says his mother. "Once Greg left home, things were different. He and Merv didn't see each other very much."
Almost nothing Greg did in golf seemed to sway his dad. Greg went from novice to scratch in 19 months, won the fourth tournament he entered as a pro--against names like David Graham and Graham Marsh at the West Lakes Classic in Queensland, Australia, in 1976--and became an instant success on the European tour, but his father seemed unimpressed. "Even when I started climbing the ladder, he didn't think I'd be anything," says Greg. "I had a point to prove to him, to everybody."
Greg Norman is behind the wheel of the world's fastest street-legal car, the Lamborghini Diablo, in 1993. Sitting next to him is the automobile's poor owner, who is learning that the four dumbest words to say to Norman are, "Wanna drive my car?" The two of them are flying at an ungodly speed down the desert highway outside the city of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
"How high you ever get this thing?" Norman asks as the speedometer passes 150.
"One-twenty," the man squeaks, his fingernails digging into his leather seat.
Norman gets it to 190 before he shuts it down. The owner drives the car back.
If you want to work for Norman, be his friend or be married to him, you'd better get used to speed or else develop a tranquilizer habit. He does not care if he gets a ticket, but he never seems to get one anyway. Once, a few years ago, he was trailed by a Florida state patrol car for 20 miles as he did 120 in his Testarossa, weaving in and out of traffic and the emergency lanes. "Wanna drive it?" Norman said to the cop when he was finally pulled over. He didn't get a ticket.
When Laura was pregnant with each of the two kids, she would plead with Greg to slow down, beg him not to pass on corners. She once found herself explaining that crossing double yellows at 100 mph was unnecessary because he owned the jet they were speeding to. Now, though, she's used to it. "He's never had an accident, you know," she says.
Like the bus in the movie, maybe he'll explode if he goes under 55. What's chasing him? Ordinariness? "I don't know why he's such a risktaker," says his mother. "Neither of us is like that."
Greg Norman is back in Australia, and he is watching yet another hotel in-room movie. This is because he refuses to read local papers and magazines or watch TV. In the U.S. he often gets lousy press, but he isn't torched the way he is in his native land.
Norman's biggest sin seems to be that he isn't Nicklaus, whom he resembled almost uncannily in his early 20's. He has come remarkably close to being Nicklaus but has ended up more similar to Palmer in that his disasters are as fascinating as his triumphs.
Australia is a testosterone kind of place, a drink-till-you- chunder country that, at its best, produces no-drugs-Doc-just-whiskey kind of men, such as ... Greg Norman. But losses of any kind don't play well there, and Australia's press does not see Norman as the greatest player since Tom Watson. It sees him as the player who lost the 1986 Masters on the last hole (four-iron right), lost the '86 PGA on the last hole (Tway's Twap), lost the '87 Masters on the last hole (Mize's Miracle), lost the '89 British Open on the last hole (the unreachable bunker reached), lost the '93 PGA on the last hole (paint job), lost the '95 Masters on the second-to-last hole (yanked sand wedge to 17), lost the '95 U.S. Open on the second-to-last hole (pushed six-iron at 17), became the first modern golfer to lose playoffs in all four majors, took six leads in majors to bed on Saturday night and won only one (compared with Nicklaus's 10 out of 12). Australians do not care that almost always being there at the end is Nicklausonian in itself. They do not choose to see Norman as luckless and fearless, both of which are poison in golf. They only want to know, WHY CAN'T HE WIN THE BIG ONES?
It's his greatest sadness. "I get down about it," Norman says. "I get depressed when I go to Australia and wake up in the morning and get nothing but ridicule. So I don't care anymore."
Greg Norman is sitting in the backseat of an F-14, about to check off (e), and he is absolutely clueless that his life is in danger. He and a top gun named Lieut. Maris (Weasel) Luters are flying 100 miles out of San Diego, 7,000 feet above the U.S. Navy carrier Carl Vinson. Norman has whizzed through a day of training, acing the ejector-seat test, cruising through the water parachute drag and not even breathing hard through the full-gear water tread. "I'll tell you one thing," says pilot Chris (Chill) Hill, who is bird-dogging Norman. "He's doing a helluva lot better than Tom Cruise did. He threw up."
But now Weasel's voice is in the white boy's helmet, and it's saying, "Uh, Greg, we've got a little problem."
The F-14's flaps won't go down, which means the fighter can't slow down enough to land on the postage stamp of an aircraft carrier below them. It's not easy to land a 50,000-pound jet on a ship that's bobbing in 15-foot Pacific swells and to catch the plane's tailhook on one of four cables that are three inches in diameter and spaced 40 feet apart, all the while firing the throttle forward to full power in case you miss and have to bolter. But even that isn't risky enough for You Know Who. "We've got to hit either the third or the fourth wire," he tells Weasel. "One and two are for wussies."
But right now they might not hit anything pleasant. After five minutes of trying, Weasel still can't get the flaps down. He and Norman might have to find a runway on land and come down hot.
So, Greg, weren't you a little scared up there?
"Nahhhh," Norman will say afterward. "It just meant we got to look at the sunset longer, mate!"
Eventually Weasel gets the flaps down, and they land safely. On the number 4 cable. Good man.
Greg Norman is leaving the lobby of his hotel in Orlando at the same time as several other players. Four months earlier Norman received a call from a friend of his--let's call him Joe--asking if Norman could pull a few strings and get him into a tournament in Australia. Norman called the tournament director, who said, "Sure, if you sign up too." Norman didn't especially want to play, but he did, as a favor to his friend. Joe never thanked him. Joe never came by his locker. Joe never called him in his room.
Now, as Norman leaves the Orlando hotel on his way to a quiet dinner, he asks the other players why they're all dressed up.
"Joe's party," they say. "Aren't you coming?"
Greg Norman is on his way to the press room at the Augusta National Golf Club after just missing last year's Masters title. The culprit this time was a simple 106-yard sand wedge that landed 70 feet from the pin and set up a three-putt bogey that ended his chances of catching Ben Crenshaw and winning the championship he wants most. "Mud on the ball," guesses one golf writer.
"Nah," says another. "Slick grip."
"Five bucks says it's the wind changed," says a third.
Norman arrives. What happened on that second shot into 17?
"I think it was kind of a hanging lie," he says. The writers roll their eyes.
The biggest problem with a compass that's always fixed on Perfect is that golf is the most imperfect game. There are too many variables: wind, funny hops, golf gods who might think being handsome, cool and ridiculously talented is enough; majors we'll dole out to somebody else. The greatest golfers did not think Perfect. Walter Hagen used to count on missing seven shots every round. If he missed only six, he broke open the champagne.
Mistakes do not compute in Norman's laptop. Bruce Edwards, who caddied for Norman in 1988, says the difference between his current boss, Tom Watson, and Norman is the latter's "softness."
"Greg has that tremendous ability to have six or seven straight birdies," Edwards says, "but then he'll get pissed off with a bad bounce or a bad result. I expected Greg to react like true champions react. If Watson hits a bad shot, he'll watch and take it and say, 'That is my punishment.'"
"Hell, that's not fair," says Norman. "He's talking about a few shots out of what, hundreds of thousands I've hit? Jesus!"
Remember, it was Norman who played what may be the greatest round of the last 20 years, shooting 64 at Royal St. George's on Sunday to win the 1993 British Open over the best leader board in two decades: Faldo, Price, Couples, Corey Pavin, Ernie Els and Bernhard Langer, none of whom shot worse than 70. "Never," said 91-year-old Gene Sarazen, "have I seen golf played like that."
But among those who know Norman best--coaches, friends, caddies--the theory is that the bigger the tournament, the more Norman's irresistible drive gets in the way of his task. In crucial situations Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and Watson seemed to say, "O.K., what shot does this require?" In the same situations Norman seems to say, "What shot do I need to stick in there?"
Australia's Peter Thomson, a five-time British Open champion, told The Times of London recently that Norman can make the impossible shots look easy and yet "make such hard work of such simple shots, it's almost as if he were ungifted." This is starting to purple Norman's cheeks.
"O.K.," he says, his voice rising. "But if I changed my way, would the wins come easier? Everybody can second-guess me. If I did change, it could make me worse, couldn't it? I mean, I don't want to be a guy who hits it in the water and goes, 'Ha, ha!' When you lose a shot, you can never make it up! Never!"
Greg Norman is doing something really scary. He is admitting he screwed up. He is talking to a roomful of reporters about the 1995 Doral tournament, at which he had a simple six-iron into the 72nd hole to stay tied with Faldo but duck-hooked it into the lake and then said there had been a clump of grass that made the ball turn over. Now, remarkably, he concedes that he was making an excuse. "That was stupid," he says. "I overplayed that shot."
After 24 years of golf, he is changing a little. He is starting to learn that you do not get extra points for burying an opponent. "I used to say, Let's drive it up there, let's go for it," he says. "Now I find myself saying, Why? You can lay it up, and the way you pitch and putt, you'll make a helluva lot more 4s that way."
Maybe his thinking is changing because the thinking on Norman himself is changing. In January he was voted Player of the Year by his peers for the first time. "That made me feel better about playing in America," Norman says. "After all these years people might finally be saying, 'Hey, he's not too bad after all.'"
At this year's Doral he went out and stole one the Nicklaus way. He hit the ball a little raggedly, lagged a few putts, actually played to the safe part of the green once or twice and won the thing. Amazingly, he was not labeled a wussie in the morning papers, and the check cashed the same as all the others.
Whaddya know? His flaps do go down.
Greg Norman is not going into the house, and neither is his father. It is 1991, Brisbane. Greg missed the cut at the Masters, and something inside him made him fly home to be with his parents, to talk a few things out, to get things said. Laura and Toini go into the house, and Greg says, "Hold on a second, Dad," and that's when a lot of it comes out. "We argued, we discussed, I told him what I thought," Greg says. "He told me what he thought. It was good. We both needed it."
Merv can still be hard to get much out of, but when the talk turns to business, the two men really hum. "I really value his advice," says the son. "He's a very good businessman," says the father.
It's still hard for Merv to understand why Greg's $18 million Gulfstream G-3 jet is no longer good enough and must be replaced by the $28 million Gulfstream G-4, but Merv was a Depression kid. You spend enough time taking your coupon book to the butcher, you don't necessarily get the whole five-boat thing.
"I think he's a much prouder father now," says Greg. "But he's not going to show you a lot of emotion. I understand that."
Greg Norman is trying to pull his wife out of the kitchen to see something. Needs her to come right now. It's not the sunset, though they have been looking at that lately. Every evening Greg gets a couple of glasses of wine, and he and Laura go outside and sit and watch the sunset. Actually sit and watch it and talk and even stay sitting there long after the sun has gone down.
Laura senses it: Greg's a little slower these days. Some nights they'll decide to sleep over at the other end of the Hobe Sound property, in the beach house on the Atlantic. And Greg will get up early and put on a pot of tea, and they'll watch the sunrise together. You think checklist, but this has happened more than once now. "We'll be doing this when we're 70 years old," Laura told Greg the other night, and he actually seemed to think 30 years ahead without getting short of breath.
Who knows what lessons an old pit bull like Norman might learn? Lessons like, yeah, being good at diving and flying choppers and cutting business deals is great, but being good at doing nothing once in a while is vastly underrated. Lessons like, speed is glorious, but slowing down is probably not fatal, not when you're this far ahead. Lessons like, a two-putt 4 is easier on the brain than a 320- yard-drive-eight-iron-blown- over-the-green-death-defying -chip-back-and-12-foot-gagger 4. You almost get the feeling that enough will enter Norman's vocabulary someday.
Just come outside, his hands are saying, so Laura goes outside in the night air, under the canopy. "So?" she says.
"Listen," he says. It's the rain on the roof. He wants her to sit and listen to the rain on the roof. "Isn't it beautiful?"